“How am I doing?” – Why tracking your goals might be harder than you think

Does eating a carrot do more good than eating a doughnut does bad? That is what people tend to think when they’re on a diet, at least according to these researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder. They call their finding the “progress bias”, and what it basically means is that people tend to over-exaggerate the positive and downplay the negative when they’re considering how their doing in terms of goals and progress.

Especially now that the new year is here, a lot of us have made the vow that this will be the year where we finally start losing weight, saving money, or begin exercising. Engaging in behaviors that help us get closer to the goal, so called goal-consistent behaviors, feel like big accomplishments, while behaviors damaging to the goal, might not feel like they are equally negative. One of the many reasons why the process of dieting can seem so maddening could be that we think we have made all the right changes, but still we don’t see the desired results. This study points to one of the reasons why: maybe we aren’t as successful in working towards our goals as we think we are. Statistics suggest that as many as 45% of Americans made New Year’s resolutions this year, and also that the majority of these people will fail. Apparently we find it all too easy to close our eyes to the bad and only focus on the good, leaving us with an unrealistic idea of how we are doing. No wonder dieting is so frustrating!

Are there ways to overcome the progress bias, one might ask? “Monitor, monitor, monitor”, Margaret Campbell, one of the lead researchers, says. “For example, dieters need to pay close attention to calories in and out – both aspects – during this tempting time to keep from falling prey to the bias”.

If that is not really your thing though, it helps to know that the bias might be a motivator to some, as we are bound to have some relapses during times of change, and this helps us from lingering on our failures and look at the bright side. Check out the article here to get the full image of what else this bias might do!